The Tale of a Fluffy Tail
James Brigden, Cataloguer at the Homerton College Library, explores two intriguing items in the Children’s Rare Book Collection.
Among a substantial and growing collection of rare books in Homerton College Library are two wonderful first editions of works by Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.
Artist and naturalist Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is still one of the best-selling authors of all time. She created some of the most iconic characters in children’s literature and first editions of her early work are scarce.
Homerton College’s copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, her first published story, is certainly from one of the first three printings of the first trade edition, published between October and December 1902. There are several ways we can tell this from looking at our copy. Firstly, any copies with ‘Ltd’ after the name of the publisher date from a later period, as Frederick Warne was not incorporated until 1919. Secondly, the letters ‘o’ on the front cover should have dots in the centres. Our copy does. We can also see, on page 51, the famous change in the text: the line ‘wept big tears’ was changed after the third printing to ‘shed big tears’.
The second tale in the series, Squirrel Nutkin, was published in 1903. Homerton’s copy is certainly either from the first or second printing. We know this because the words ‘The Author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ appeared on the title page from the third impression onwards. These words are missing from our copy, so it is either the first impression – published August 1903 – or the second impression, published between August and November 1903.
As well as several other early copies of some of her 23 Tales in the Children’s Rare Book Collection, Homerton College has over 60 books in total either by or about Beatrix Potter, most of them borrowable.
You can read more about these books on the Homerton College Library Blog.